Astellas puts the cork back in $350M Xork deal after Cartesian-Selecta merger

Astellas is putting the kibosh on a licensing deal with Cartesian Therapeutics, deciding it’s no longer interested in using the latter’s Xork asset to help treat Pompe disease. 

The decision disclosed Thursday swiftly ends a collaboration announced just over a year ago. The January 2023 deal was technically with Selecta Biosciences, which has since merged with Cartesian. 

Astellas paid $10 million upfront to use Xork in conjunction with one of its own gene therapies, AT845. Astellas also offered $340 million in biobucks should the now-terminated collab prove fruitful. The hope was that Xork, a preclinical immunoglobulin protease, would help patients who were otherwise ineligible for AAV-based gene therapies. 

But once Selecta merged with Cartesian in November 2023, the focus shifted to the latter’s autoimmune cell therapies, namely Descartes-08, which is in clinical trials to treat myasthenia gravis and lupus, among other conditions. Selecta was teetering in the months leading up to the companies' fusion, laying off 25% of employees in May. Xork survived a subsequent pipeline narrowing, thanks to Astellas' name attached to the program. 

Cartesian didn't mention its plans for Xork when the merger was announced and said it didn't incur any early termination penalties following the axed Astellas collab. 

Business development has, as of late, been one of Astellas’ favored routes to bolster its pipeline. Most recently, the company’s subsidiary, Xyphos, signed a deal with Kelonia to develop novel immuno-oncology cell therapies. A few months earlier, Xyphos linked up with Phenomic AI to work on an antibody targeting tumor stroma. And in early December, Astellas paid $37 million upfront to Elpiscience Biopharma for its bispecific macrophage engagers.